You’re well on your way practising your swim, bike, run! Well done! But don’t be fooled. Triathlon is really named wrongly, because it effectively has a fourth discipline: the transition. When I started out, I was taught that transitions are free time. With a well executed transition you can leap frog fellow competitors – and impress watching family and friends. It’s nothing to be afraid of, it just looks and sounds complicated. So, here are a few pointers to get you ahead of the game.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice
Yes, I know, it sounds a bit lame and overused, but: practice makes perfect. And this is particularly true for transitions. Practice lets you rehearse what you need to do and eventually, your movements in transition become automated. Think about it: Do you think about how you tie your shoe laces? It’s an automated movement, you’ve done it a million times. You are a confident performer of that specific task. The same holds true for transition. Practice will increase your confidence. Just 5 min at the start or end of your training session can make all the difference.
2. Be organised
Transition can be confusing because there is seemingly a lot of kit that you need. But really, the kit you’ll need depends on the weather and generally, you’d aim for minimising the amount as much as possible. There are really only 3 absolutely essential items that need to be with your bike in transition: your helmet, your bike shoes (if you are using them) and your running shoes. You cannot forget any of them. The less kit you leave in transition, the less opportunity to get muddled up. Place the necessary items to the front, so you don’t have to go looking for them.
3. Remain calm, don’t rush
Practice gives you confidence and security. But there is always the possibility something may go wrong, particularly if there are a lot of competitors. Someone may knock your helmet off your bike, the wind may blow a jacket away that you left (if it’s cold and windy). Mentally rehearse what you will do. Have a Plan B (I generally also have a Plan C if things go really wrong). Whatever happens, remain calm. Think. Calm targeted movements will always be more efficient than bouncing about like a headless chicken and being upset about the situation. Be mentally prepared in case something has changed. Know what you will do.
So much for the mental preparation, now here are a few tricks of the trade to make you even faster:
4. Lube up!
Taking your wetsuit off can be a time consuming affair because it just seems to get sooooo sticky on your skin. The secret here is to get the suit off as quickly as possible when you exit the water, because it is easier to take off when there is still a water layer between your skin and the suit. When you exit the water open the velcro tab and the zipper as quickly as possible, pull your arms out fast (think explosive movement backwards with your elbow) fold your suit down to your waist. Then run like this to your bike. If you have trouble reaching and fiddling with the velcro and the zip while running, walk. I mostly walk when doing this. It gives you a couple of seconds to adjust your body from being horizontal to vertical and you can focus on what you do. Control your movement, nothing more frustrating that trying a million times and it just, won’t, work. When at your bike you want to get the rest of the suit of as quickly as possible. The rubber can be quite sticky and stiff and you may struggle to pull it off over your feet with your arms. Use your legs! They are stronger. Pull the suit down as far as you can, the stand on the fabric and pull your leg out. Here’s a little tip to make it extra fast: generously lube your arms and legs with baby oil before you put the suit on. The wetsuit will come off quicker, and you’ll have a little extra insulation layer if the water is cold.
5. Lid on!
There is one cardinal rule in transition: Do NOT touch your bike before you’ve got your helmet on! There are penalties for this if you do. The first piece of kit you reach for should always, always, always be your helmet. No exceptions! This should be your mantra. Make sure you leave it easily accessible, open the clasp, fold the straps outwards, so you can quickly put it on. Then take care of the rest. Equally, when you come back from your bike ride, the helmet is the LAST thing you take off after you’ve put your bike back on the rack and put your running shoes on (if you have not worn them on the bike).
6. Socks or no socks, that’s a very good question
Socks are very much a comfort factor and it took me a while to get rid of them and run barefoot in my trainers. But have you ever tried putting socks on wet feet after a swim? Nightmare, right? Consider running without socks in your trainers. Decide which trainers you will wear in the race. Put them on your bare feet and go for a little run. You may notice some “hot spots” developing. Those are the danger areas for blisters. Here’s what you do: get a pot of Vaseline or similar, remember where the hotspots are in your shoe and generously put some dabs of Vaseline on those spots. Tying shoe laces takes some time, consider getting quick laces, there are various options out there. And lastly: your feet will be wet after the swim. If you dust the inside of your running (and/ or cycling shoes) with a bit of baby powder, you can slip in easier.
7. Don’t try anything new on race day
A lot of people start to panic immediately before the race. They read an article in a triathlon magazine or on an online forum or have a chat with a fellow competitor or an exhibitor at the expo about the newest gadget on the market that makes your transition even faster. This then casts doubt on your mind whether you’ve got it all worked out, whether the gadget would make a difference. If you think it will, by all means buy the gadget if you can get a good price, but DO NOT use it for the first time on race day. Trying new stuff on race day is generally a recipe for disaster. Don’t try any new techniques taking your wetsuit off or decide to try a flying mount that you haven’t practised before because the pros and other competitors do it. Stick with what you know! You should not introduce anything new (including shoes, nutrition, kit, technique) any less than three weeks before the race. Remember, it’s about confidence and knowing that can comfortably do what you have to!
Even if you are racing, triathlon is about enjoyment and the joy of movement. It’s about the atmosphere, the scenery. Soak it up! Enjoy it! Show it! Smile. Apart from looking better in race pictures with a smile on your face, smiling also releases hormones that make you feel good. You’ll relax, which in turn will put you back in control of the situation, takes away some of the pain, and if necessary enables you to focus back on the task.
I hope you’ll find this helpful. These little tips and tricks were all part of my learning process of doing triathlon. And yes, at one stage or other, I’ve got them all wrong, every single one of them. There’s really only two things you can do about it: practice and smile!